“The National Medal of Technology is the highest honor bestowed by the President of the United States to America’s leading innovators. Enacted by Congress in 1980, the medal was first awarded in 1985. The medal is given annually to individuals, teams, or companies for accomplishments in the innovation, development, commercialization and management of technology, as evidenced by the establishment of new or significantly improved products, processes, or services.
The primary purpose of the National Medal of Technology is to recognize those who have made lasting contributions towards enhancing America’s competitiveness and standard of living. The medal highlights the national importance of fostering technological innovation based upon solid science, resulting in commercially successful products and services.” In principle, it is truly a Yankee ingenuity-inspired effort.
From 1985 through 1998, 96 medals had been awarded. In the first year, 1985, one of the medals was awarded to John T. Parsons and Frank L. Stulen for their development and successful demonstration of a numerically controlled machine tool. The other ninety-five awards involved almost as many industries. The award for the numerically controlled machine tool was a major milestone for that industry and, in fact, it precipitated a revolution in the special machine tool segment and in numerous others.
The President of the United States gives the award after a recommendation by the Secretary of Commerce, following evaluations made by a nominating committee. The nomination itself can come from anyone, but must follow strict nominating guidelines.
It is significant that the one machine tool award occurred very early in the history of the medal, as the special machine tool segment had already begun its decline. The decline in the early stages was not as noticeable in business volume as it was in a general fading of the industry stature as evidenced by difficulty in attracting new people and by all the consolidations that were taking place. It was being painted with the “rust belt” paintbrush.
It is entirely possible, even probable, that some of the many developments and innovative processes and products that have come out of the American special machine tool industry during the medal years would have qualified for consideration and that medals would have resulted. The industry leaders had their heads down fighting for survival and there was no one else to wave the flag on their behalf. It is very likely that local, state, and federal government representatives did a certain amount of cheerleading on behalf of some of the 96 recipients
This was not a problem that affected business particularly, although that kind of recognition could have been a shot in the arm when things were really tough otherwise. The medal dry spell has simply underscored the decline and further obscured the industry from the view of the public and the government.
National Medal Technology home page http://www.ta.doc.gov/medal/ - US Department of Commerce